On Wednesday, Feb. 19, UNC Charlotte alerted the community via NinerNotice of two students being investigated by the Mecklenburg County Health Department for being potentially infected by tuberculosis (TB). The students were off-campus commuters and are both receiving an isolation treatment. UNC Charlotte has also notified anyone who may have been in contact with the sick and may require testing. Testing is available at the Student Health Center and the Mecklenburg County Health Department.
Chief Medical Officer of Northern Hospital of Surry County, Dr. Jason Edsall, spoke with the Niner Times in regards to the TB outbreak.
“TB refers to an infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. While the infection can affect many areas of the body, the most common area affected is the lungs,” said Dr. Edsall.
Dr. Edsall added that TB is spread from person to person through droplets in the air as a result of coughing or sneezing. These droplets contain the bacteria that can lead to an infection in someone who inhales them.
The symptoms of TB include a prolonged cough, fever, night sweats and unintended weight loss.
With regard to the University, UNC Charlotte’s Emergency Management and Health Center have released statements and updates on how to handle the situation.
They have already contacted those whom they believe may have come into contact with the infected and encourage anyone who was not contacted but feels as though they should be to be tested.
However, Dr. Edsall explained that not everyone who inhales the droplets gets sick. Some fight off the infection while others manage the bacteria in a latent state and become sick later. “About 5-10% of people with latent TB will have active TB later in life. It is during this active phase that the patient has symptoms and can spread the disease to others,” Dr. Edsall elaborated.
A vaccine for TB is available but is not routinely recommended in the US due to the low prevalence of the disease. Dr. Edsall cautioned that, “It is important that you have a skin test if you feel you have been exposed so that the disease may be treated in its early or latent phase.”
If infected the treatment usually consists of up to four antibiotics for up to 6 months, depending upon the level of exposure and the stage of the disease.
To further prevent further spreading of TB, the Health Center suggests practicing good hygiene by washing your hands, sneezing and coughing into your sleeve or tissue (not hand), and avoid sharing food, cups or utensils.